Thinking of writing a Western? As genre’s go, this one’s tropes are relatively easy to nail:
- Set it in the American west during the roughly thirty years between 1865 and 1895
- Mix in any/all of the following: cowboys, indians, bank/train robbers, guns, horses, and/or mules. (Have at least one WANTED poster hanging somewhere.)
- Make sure the good guys—in white cowboy hats—win.
In short, the Western was a shorthand for the things we Americans believe ourselves to be—adventurous, brave, and entitled as hell. Here’s my proposal for a sure-fire Western bestseller:
The Seventh Cavalry Vacation theme park
by Louise l’Amour
The one-horse, two saloons & a tanning salon town of The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park & Wax Museum holds a secret.
Miss Cassie, former Fastest Tattoo Gunner in the Midwest, has rebuilt her shattered life (following an unfortunate incident involving the Governor’s wife and a dirty tattoo needle) as a puppy-petting, regular bather woman, and has hung her shit-stompin red leather cowboy boots on her wall as a reminder of the evils of her former life. She is now working as The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park & Wax Museum’s marshall, and two-stepping with her Aw-shucks-ma’am boyfriend, Peaty The Plucky Homesteader.
The night of the shootout at high noon changes everything for Miss Cassie and Peaty. One moment, they are discussing tatts with Miz Annabelle at her Saloon & Tanning Parlour, the next, watching with horror as dog-kicking card-cheating mouth-breather cowboys lasso Peaty and drag him down Main Street, just because Peaty reminded the cowboys to wash their hands after visiting the outhouse.
Miss Cassie knows the cowboys are from the MainStreet@HighNoonSaloon but she can’t prove it—at least not without her shit-stompin red leather cowboy boots. However, when she finds the custom-tooled leather saddle from Peaty’s horse, Oldish Paint, in her cellar, she begins to realise that things are not quite as they seem in her beloved one-less-horse, two saloons & a tanning salon town. Peaty’s disappearance leaves Cassie with some startling questions about her past, and she sets off to the dark underbelly of The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park and Wax Museum to find some answers.
At first the people of The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park and Wax Museum are feisty and quick-on-the-draw. She is intrigued by the curiously Mom-&-apple-pie-loving saloon keeper at the MainStreet@HighNoonSaloon, Chuck Magical Native American. However, after Chuck introduces her to hard sarsaparilla, Cassie slowly finds herself drawn into a web of train robberies, bank jobs and perhaps, even puppy-kicking.
The sarsaparilla-scarfing woman knows that her puppy-petting, regular bathing life is over. She dons the shit-stompin red leather cowboy boots and is reborn as the hero who will save the world from dog-kicking card-cheating mouth-breather cowboys.
However, Miss Cassie finds herself troubled by her hard-drinking ideals and becomes overwhelmed with moral questions. Will her conscience allow her to do whatever is needed to stop the dog-kicking card-cheating mouth-breather cowboys?
Can Miss Cassie resist the charms of Chuck Magical Native American and uncover the secret of the tooled leather saddle from Peaty’s horse, Oldish Paint, before it’s too late, or will her demise become yet another legend of The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park and Wax Museum?
Genre Notes for The Western:
- If Chuck Magical Native American applies feathers or war paint about his person/or shoots arrows (unless he’s moonlighting as an exotic dancer), if the bank or train is robbed by masked men in black hats, or if there is a gunfight in the street at noon, it is Wild West Theme Park. Bonus points if Miz Annabel is a former Soiled Dove and we all (wink, wink) know what her saloon & tanning salon “girls” get up to in their upstairs rooms.
- If Miss Cassie is the captain of an interstellar spaceship with a lovable crew of misfit smugglers and Miz Annabel’s Saloon & Tanning Salon is host to one of the more wretched hives of scum and villainy in the galaxy, it is a Space Western.
- If Miss Cassie almost never speaks, wears a poncho, and/or befriends a small child for whom she reluctantly comes out of retirement to save the town (even though it means embracing the violence she is running from) to kill just about everyone in sight—bonus points if the small child is also killed—before riding alone into the sunset, she is the Western Antihero.
- If Miss Cassie collects a motley crew of former sharp-shooting Knights of the Old West who pull together one last time to save the town in a direct ripoff of an Akira Kurosawa plot, it’s a Samurai Western. Bonus points if Miss Cassie uses a sword.
- If the book is set in current times and Miss Cassie rides a motorcycle but still wears a duster to clean up the corruption of The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park, it’s a New Old Western.
- If Miss Cassie is just about to face the leader of the unhygienic cowboys when suddenly a road crew shows up and extends the interstate right up Main Street, and the cowboys open an Orange Julius stand while Miss Cassie retires to start an internet cafe, it’s Twilight of the Old West and doesn’t that just drip irony.
- If The Seventh Cavalry Vacation Theme Park is an actual ghost town and the cowboys are zombies, while Peaty’s ghost comes back to guide Miss Cassie at critical moments even though they can never be together in that way, it’s Weird West. Chuck Magical Native American will not be pleased, but I expect to make big bucks when it becomes a sure-fire bestseller that’s turned into a blockbuster TV series.
For a look at a Western that hilariously subverts most of its lovingly-reproduced tropes, please see my review below of The Lucky Hat Mine by JvL Bell.
[NOTE: I’ve never tried reviewing using Audible’s guided format, but I decided to give it a shot for The Lucky Hat Mine.]
A recipe for true love or murder? Ingredients: one Southern belle, one Colorado gold miner, a wife wanted classified, and a fainting goat. Let simmer.
What’s a Southern belle to do in 1863? Wife-wanted ads are always risky business, but Millie Virginia never imagined she’d survive the perilous trip across the Great Plains to find her intended husband in a pine box. Was he killed in an accident? Or murdered for his gold mine? Stuck in the mining town of Idaho Springs, Colorado territory, without friends or means, Millie is beleaguered by undesirable suitors and threatened by an unknown assailant. Her troubles escalate when the brother of her dead fiancé, Dominic Drouillard, unexpectedly turns up.
Dom is an ill-mannered mountain man who invades Millie’s log cabin, insists that his brother was murdered, and refuses to leave until he finds the killer. Compelled to join forces with her erstwhile brother-in-law, Millie discovers the search for Colorado gold is perilous, especially with a murderer on their trail.
The Lucky Hat Mine interlaces the tale of a feisty heroine with frontier legend and lore making for an arousing historical murder mystery.
- Book Title: The Lucky Hat Mine
- Author: J. v. L. Bell
- Genre: Western/Romance
- Length: 306 pages (9 hours and 42 minutes for audio)
- Release Date: September 7, 1916
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I was asked to review The Lucky Hat Mine for Rosie’s Book Review Team. Because I was traveling, I wasn’t able to download it from Netgalley or even download the offered copy of the audiobook. But when I heard that the audio was narrated by Nancy Wu, I went straight to my Audible UK account and bought a copy. And I’m so glad I did, although the mix of humor, historical detail, and great story earned me some odd looks as I laughed out loud while walking the dog.
What did you like best about this story?
This is a western, both due to its historical period and initial tales of crossing the prairie by covered wagon. But author JvL Bell takes on almost every western trope and makes it her own. For example, in your standard Western, women come in two kickass models: good (frontier wives/ preachers’ daughters) and bad (dance-hall girls/Soiled Doves such as Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday’s common law wife). Occasionally, the Soiled Doves—if they had a Heart-of-Gold—become good saloon owners (like Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke) or even wives. But Miss Permelia Abingdon Virginia—Millie to her friends—is a genteel Southern lady. Despite being raised in an orphanage, she’s worked darn hard to become one, memorizing and frequently quoting from her two bibles: THE LADIES’ BOOK OF ETIQUETTE and MANUAL OF POLITENESS: a complete handbook for the use of the lady in polite society by Florence Hartley, (actually published in 1873, whist the story is set in 1863), and TRUE POLITENESS, A hand-book of etiquette for ladies by An American Lady (1847).
But when the War of Northern Aggression (Civil War) makes Millie a virtual household slave to the LeGrand family, leaving her with almost no chance for marriage and a family of her own, she decides take an almost unthinkable gamble and become a mail-order bride. After enduring the horrors of a westward journey, she arrives at the gold-mining town of Idaho Springs Colorado to find that her proposed husband is in a pine coffin, “resting in the river” (because it was just too warm to leave him exposed to air)—leaving her to become “The Widow D” and heir to her dead fiance’s gold mine.
Idaho Springs’ woman-starved and gold-hungry residents immediately begin proposing marriage and offering to buy the mine. Shocked, Millie refuses all offers and moves into her dead almost-husband’s cabin. As she continues to rebuff proposals and receive ever-increasing offers to purchase her mine, Millie starts to carve out a tentative life for herself, befriending Mary, a black woman living in the next cabin, as well as her other new neighbors. But nothing in her etiquette bibles has prepared her for her unexpected new roommate—Dom, her dead fiance’s brother.
As the story unwinds with a side-mystery involving her mysterious parents, Millie survives proposals, attempts on her life, and a pregnant fainting goat. And she does it all with humor, appreciation for the people she meets, hope for the future, and a healthy dose of strong willed determination.
Have you listened to any of Nancy Wu’s other performances? How does this one compare?
Narrator Nancy Wu is one of my favorite audiobook performers. In this one, she absolutely shines as she employs different accents and voice pitch to make the various characters come alive. I think most of the large supporting cast of characters could not possibly have seemed so hilariously real without Ms. Wu’s ability to give each their own voice. But it was the way she performed with obvious joy in the story and the humor that made the book really live for me.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
There were many moments that had me laughing out loud, but perhaps the most moving one is where Millie, who is terrified of caves, goes into a collapsed mine tunnel to rescue her pet fainting goat Buttercup.
Any additional comments?
I love the way Millie’s character develops, from a young girl relying on the etiquette she’s learned to grow beyond her life as an orphan, eventually becoming a strong-willed (but always proper) woman who takes charge of her own destiny. The other characters in the book were also amusing, but not well-defined. My only real disappointment was in how the story seemed to end suddenly. The romance that grows between Dom and Millie is sweet, but her incessant wonder/worry about just what a husband’s “rights” might be stops a little too abruptly. I would have liked to see her move beyond the bedroom to embrace her new life and destiny.
The setting is particularly effective. Not only does the author provide detailed word pictures of the area, but she fills in with a number of amusing and historically-accurate stories and details. Overall, The Lucky Hat Mine is an engaging, funny, clean romance. With fainting goats. Who could resist?